This Blog contribution is from Michael Muilenburg. He is the Operational Technology Manager and Strategic Planner for the Film Manufacturing and Supply Chain Operations Division of 3M Company. He currently leads a team of continuous improvement specialists that support manufacturing and supply chain operations in nine US locations and twelve international sites. In addition, he coordinates the division annual strategic planning process and is active in business analysis and modeling, benchmarking and understanding the competition.

This posting lines up nicely with the Lean Theme at the Manufacturers Alliance this year – Marvel Superhero’s Click Here and makes us reflect on the essence of a lean leaders role and character. Enjoy it!


It’s a big job.
It’s a job that is not very well defined.
It usually carries many other side responsibilities.
It often implies being a “Kaizen facilitator” or the person that knows all the Lean tools.

What is the essence of the Lean Leader job?

I’ve picked out a few super heroes to outline the key components of this role in our organization. See if you identify with any of these heroes.

Super Heros

VISION – always looking forward

    • Define operational excellence strategies for the site or organization
      • align to division, business group, corporate, and customer needs
      • define current and future state (champion value stream improvement)
      • understand and connect customer value to everything we do
      • support Process Owners and Champions in the hopper processes
      • seek, share, and implement best practices
      • look for applicability of tools and methods to areas outside of current focus

HAWKEYE – an eye on the target

    • Identify and understand the gaps in our systems and performance
      • model, teach, and coach Lean behaviors with a constant eye on waste
      • demonstrate enterprise excellence principles in every aspect of performance; always looking for ideal behaviors
      • demonstrate passion for the potential to make the enterprise more successful and work more fulfilling for all
      • facilitate, communicate, mentor, and teach

IRON MAN – knowledge + builder + doer

    • Architect continuous improvement systems
      • be the site systems and tools expert – proficient in Lean and Six Sigma methodologies and the application of their corresponding tools
      • build and implement systems to support Strategy Deployment, Visual Management, Daily Continuous improvement, and Standard Follow-Up
      • establish control plans, monitor appropriate metrics to validate Lean project results are achieved, and communicate progress to Champions and Leadership Teams
      • go to where the work is done and lend a hand, do the work, encourage the team, celebrate the success

Which superhero are you?

When I asked our Lean Leaders this question, I got a wide variety of responses depending on their current progress on the Lean journey and their personal development. Most said they were striving to be all three superheroes rolled into one, focused on these key elements. They all admitted they were being asked to do many things not on this list and many of these things had seemingly little value. They also used many other words to describe their leadership. I have boiled it down to three things:

  1. It takes passion – to cultivate and facilitate the Lean vision for your operation
  2. It takes persistence – to monitor performance, to influence, to develop, to listen, to correct, and to inspire your team to get better every day
  3. It takes the ability to stomach risks – to experiment, make adjustments, look for ideal and non-ideal behavior, while knowing that you don’t know it all and you won’t get everything perfect on the first try.

These are three things that matter.

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